His fate was sealed the moment he laid his eyes on Yu Wu Xiu.
The perfect conspiracy. An elaborate lie.
Being the Mistress of Alchemy, the Queen's Realm had always been Yu Wu Xiu's dream. But unfortunately for her, she would be born an ordinary woman, an unremarkable peasant, an average alchemist.
Yet fortune did smile upon her. She was handed a family heirloom, a rare treasure that could transfer the powers of a gifted alchemist onto its owner.
But the gifted alchemists of Yue Zhou were all too strong and clever for her to entrap.
Therefore, she embarked on a quest to find such a candidate and eventually stumbled on the perfect victim in Yun Zhou. According to her sources, this man was once the brightest rising star in the world of alchemy and fell from grace after hate led him to consume the Dan of the Evil Heart.
Yu Wu Xiu was elated, for she knew that aside from inheriting the person's powers, this treasure also rids all undesirable side effects from improper Dan consumption.
After selecting her target, Yu Wu Xiu began orchestrating this elaborate plan. First, she would find him and lure him into the Shang Qing Clan. Then, she would purge him of all impurities from consuming the Dan of Evil Heart. Finally, when he is at his weakest, immediately before breaking through to the Mastery Level, she would activate her treasure and steal all his powers.
Her plan had been well known throughout the highest orders within Shang Qing Clan. Her ancestor had been one of the Clan's Founding Fathers. Naturally, the Elders of the Clan were receptive to her plan.
All this led to the events of the last scene.
Every noble family was in attendance. Logically speaking, this would not have reflected well on the Shang Qing Clan, but this was just the effect Yu Wu Xiu had hoped for.
This public, dramatic demise of Yue Zhou's most promising star would give rise to another.
Yu Wu Xiu was not particularly gifted or powerful. She had no other opportunity but to attack Ling Xian at his weakest.
She succeeded just as she expected. Every ounce of Ling Xian's power was now hers.
Yu Wu Xiu stood like a Goddess on the highest peak, looking down on the crowd beneath.
Her pupils took on the solid colors of black and white, a bloodstained sword in her hand, a pair of magnificent wings appeared behind her. She was now the Queen of her Realm.
In contrast, Ling Xian had lost his magical aura. He was now the dusty figure that cowered at her feet.
The former golden child of alchemy was as unrecognizable as a street beggar while the woman he had mistakenly loved rose to dominance on the back of his defeat.
His Eyes of Execution had become her Eyes of Execution, his gifts now hers. Everything he had was now hers.
As if his heart burst inside his chest, he was overcome with grief, confusion, and sheer pain.
Anger, hatred, sorrow… an indescribable mix of emotions expressed in a soft sigh.
Returning her icy gaze, Ling Xian shook his head then turned to leave, never to look back.
The crowd dispersed to create a path for him. No one said a word, no one jeered. Looks of pity were exchanged amongst those who exchanged glances.
Yu Wu Xiu detected traces of lingering love from Ling Xian's last glance. He had lost everything, yet he did not appear to harbor any hatred from this 20-year long deception. He left her with nothing but a look of disappointment.
Disappointed in her cause; disappointed in this ending.
This was supposed to be a happy occasion. But seeing the shadow of Ling Xian's back slowly disappearing into the wilderness, Yu Wu Xiu was consumed by pain herself.
Every ending rose from a cause. Good causes led to good endings and vice versa.
She committed this act out of an evil cause. Was this ending her punishment?
Yu Wu Xiu shook her head and tried to expel this thought from her mind. Good or evil, nothing mattered now. From this day forward, her and Ling Xian would belong to two completely different worlds.
One stands tall as the Goddess of Heaven, the other cowards at her feet, a speck of dust.
She was standing on the throne reserved for a Goddess. She had succeeded. With Ling Xian's powers, she would unite the earth and lead humanity to peace and prosperity just as the legendary female warrior had over 200,000 years ago.
Yet, she stood there speechless, two streams of tear rushed down her cheeks.
Yu Wu Xiu extended her left hand and clutched her chest.
She felt pain there.
50 year later, a frazzled looking elderly man arrived at the City of Qing.
His presence went unnoticed. He arrived quietly at the abandoned location where the former Ling Clan stood, reminiscent of its past glories.
The elderly man was dressed in ragged clothing. His face was deprived of color, his gaze filled with hopelessness. He was so frail as if he would drop dead at any moment.
Ling Xian had come home.
Since having his powers forcibly taken from him, the side of effects of the Dan of Evil Hearts returned to haunt his subconscious. He knew his days as a cultivator were over and thus embarked on this long journey home to return to his roots.
This journey had taken 50 years.
From the handsome, buoyant youth to the fragile, unrecognizable drifter, from the bedazzling hero to the suicidal beggar, Ling Xian's life had been a legend in the storybook.
Confronted with the abandoned rubbles where the mighty Ling Clan once stood, Ling Xian exhaled deeply. He then stumbled onto a giant rock, coughing as he sat down.
A few steps were enough to make him lose his breath. His pale face turned paper white. He appeared to be near the end of his life.
This was the former practice ground for the students of Ling.
Looking around, he was able to make out the former layout of these grounds. He could imagine what it looked like, and how it felt to be practicing there.
How limitless was his ability, how incredible was his life then.
Ling Xian let out a helpless smile, memories rushed back.
He recounted the turning points in his life, from entering a life of alchemy, to arriving at the city of Cang Yu, to joining Qing Yun Clan, to his spectacular fall from grace.
A hundred years vanished in the blink of an eye.
Anger, defeat, joy, pleasure, sorrow, peace… he had experienced every sentiment on the emotional spectrum.
Treachery, infighting, ruthlessness, he had been tested by every nature of humanity.
He had experienced, to the fullest extent, the secrets, wonders, and miracles the Taoism Community had to offer.
Compared to others in the Taoism Community, his life was by no means a long life. However, it was filled with wonder and excitement, a life others could only dream of.
He had observed the world floating in the clouds and looked up at the heavens from a pile of dust.
The joys and sorrows, the ups and downs of his tumultuous life were not for the fainthearted. Anyone lacking in resilience would have given up on it long ago.
But he had experienced it not once, but twice, and he made it out from the other end.
Time had dulled his sharpness, but not his will.
Ling Xian had no regrets. Even though he fell short of achieving the goals of his youth, he had made his mark in the history of alchemy.
Sighing softly, Ling Xian retrieved a book he had bought as a child with his shaking hands.
The book had accompanied him throughout the years and around the world. It was the last memory of his youth.
He had not opened the pages since exiting the Hidden Territory, but returning to the Clan of his past ignited a flame he could not extinguish.
His eyesight was dull. Blowing away the light layer of dust on the book cover, he opened it to the first page.
Moving down the list of names, he didn't feel anything until he arrived on page 250.
A familiar name jumped off the page.
Liao Cang Qiong.
These three words echoed in his mind, refusing the leave. He felt a sudden sense of familiarity, but couldn't immediately place this loose fragment of his memory.
"Liao Cang Qiong…"
He thought long and hard. Suddenly, water stormed his eye sockets. Before he realized what had hit him, tears came flooding down his face.
"The Almighty Master!"
His eyes came alive. He shot up from the rock he was sitting on, looked towards the sky and let out an echoing roar.
At this moment, he was no longer the frail old man. Instead, he became once again the confident, ambitious and slightly arrogant youth at the peak of his life and at the top of the world.
He had understood everything.
All of this, from beginning to end, had been a dream, the most realistic dream.
The Spirit of the Hidden Territory never returned him to the outside world, but into a deep, mythical world of desire and fantasy. The Ling Clan was not exterminated, Yu Wu Xiu did not exist, and the rise and fall of his life had been all but his imagination. This dream had been carefully crafted by the subconscious of his soul.
The only weakness of this fantasy world, or the only way to defeat it, was to remember and reconnect with the Painting of the Nine Immortals, to remember Liao Cang Qiong.
Throughout his imagined life, Liao Cang Qiong had never appeared to Ling Xian. To keep him in this entrapment, the Spirit had been purposely blocking out this part of his memory.
Until today, when he decided to open the pages of An Encyclopedia of Famous People of the Nine Provinces, Ling Xian had lost all memories of the Painting and his Master. A hundred years had been no longer than a passing moment.
"The Spirit of the Hidden Territory, why don't you show yourself, I know everything!"
Ling Xian took a giant leap forward, sword in hand, crushing the dream.
Instantaneously, the air around him shattered into a million pieces as if a giant glass enclosure had broken. The dusty pieces slowly vanished into thin air.
Ling Xian's body stirred violently and disappeared from this fantasy world.
"Adventurer, congratulations on waking up in your final moment and escaping your fantasy - The Lost Century.